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Examine the ways in which tragedy is presented in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

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Introduction

Examine the ways in which tragedy is presented in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare's presentation of tragedy in this play is very clear, in that he adheres to the accepted formula of what tragedy entails. However, to analyse thoroughly the means by which Shakespeare evokes the tragic elements of the plot, we must first understand what makes a tragedy. Aristotle's Poetics presents a precise definition of what tragedy is. Tragedy involves a person having a negative change of fortune, often leading to their demise. However, this change does not occur because of some moral defect or depravity, rather due to an internal error within the person, which is also intrinsic to their personality. Antony's weakness seems to be his love for Cleopatra and his inability to decide whether he should pursue duty or personal pleasures, a fault made visible by Shakespeare's presentation of Rome and Egypt, and the rapid alternation of scenes between the two. Rome is quickly established as a metaphor for Antony's responsibilities, and of Egypt, represented by Cleopatra, we are told that the "beds ... are soft". The differences between Rome and Egypt are made so apparent not only by the constant shift in scenery between the two, but also by the characters chosen by Shakespeare to represent the two places. ...read more.

Middle

He is repeatedly called, by several characters, a "triple pillar of the world", not just in reference to his political position as a triumvar, but also his importance to Rome. His value to Rome and it's armies is presented through an impressive array of narrative techniques. The most predominant is the use of size related imagery to describe literally his apparently immense character. His legs were said to have "bestrid the ocean", and "His reared arm crested the world". In relation to this is the oft-used God-like imagery used only in conversations concerning Antony, which is also important. Antony the "Herculean" is said to continue a "Jove" even after all of his mistakes during the wars between his armies and Caesar's, suggesting that his previous eminence must have been tremendous in comparison to his latter days. Throughout the play, Enobarbus is portrayed and perceived as the epitome of truth and cynicism, and is used by Shakespeare not only to add humour to the performance, but also as a dramatic device to increase the magnitude, and therefore tragedy of the piece. Enobarbus's pragmatic views eventually lead to his emergence as a moral indicator for the audience, and therefore his death is seen as a tragedy in itself, as noted by Antony, "my fortunes have corrupted honest men". ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore, the last act is strategically placed to combat the sour taste of Antony's fall, and to represent the more dominant views of his character, revealing that his downfall is in fact merely a result of his fame. His mistakes during battle, when his "fleet...yielded to the foe" are evidence of the human properties of love and companionship he felt for Cleopatra, and work in counteraction to the descriptions of him as a god. His inability to decide seems to be his fatal flaw - he is a man caught between conflicting aims, an idea made literal by the personifications of his choices, Cleopatra and Caesar, during their sea battle. Tragedy is portrayed so well in this play partly because of Shakespeare's adherence to Aristotle's guidelines, but also because of his use of narrative techniques to expand and develop Antony's personality, making him seem human, whilst preserving the God-like qualities mentioned in reference to him throughout the play. This enables an audience to feel empathy with him, and therefore with his problems. It is this empathy that ultimately leads to Shakespeare's triumph. The ability of an audience to be able to take events from the play and apply them to their own lives is key. Aristotle calls this universality, and says of it that if a play is truly tragic, it can be 'stripped' of all specifics and applied to any other situation. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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